These days, cheap flights abound. But sometimes it makes a lot more sense to hit the road for a journey through the night.
Opt for the night bus and you won’t have to worry about stressful airport queues or checking in online. You’ll also be able to save on accommodation by sleeping during the journey.
Of course, actually getting some proper rest on a bumpy bus full of strangers is easier said than done. But there are a few things you can do to make the journey run smoothly and arrive at your destination feeling refreshed. Here are our top tips for surviving the overnight bus.
1. Arrive early
Unless you’ve managed to get your hands on a ticket with a designated seat number, it’s worth arriving at the bus station early. Okay, you might miss out on another hour or two in town, but you’ll get first dibs on where to sit (and let’s face it: nobody wants to spend an eight-hour bus ride next to the stinky on-board toilet).
2. Keep your valuables close
Nobody is going to steal your dirty socks, but cameras, cash, phones and laptops can all be attractive to thieves, who’ve been known to rifle through backpacks that are stashed out of sight in the luggage areas of long-distances buses. Often, travellers only notice that something is missing when they finally reach their hotel – and by that time, the bus is long gone. Sling your big bag in the luggage area, by all means, but keep the valuable stuff with you at all times. And don’t automatically trust other backpackers you’ve been put next to; some might be looking for a quick way to boost their travel funds.
3. Wrap up
You might be sweating by the time you reach the bus station, but it’s amazing what a few hours of ice-cold air-conditioning can do for your body temperature. Keep a warm jumper handy throughout the journey, and consider taking a big scarf or shawl as well – even when you’re feeling nice and warm, they double as great covers and can be bundled up to create comfy pillows. Likewise, if you’re boarding the bus wearing shorts, make sure pack a pair of jeans in case the temperature drops.
4. Bring snacks
There are usually breaks along the way, but there’s no guarantee that the roadside stop favoured by your driver will have much in the way of variety. Stock up with drinks and snacks before you leave, and even if there’s no stop at all, at least you’ll be prepared.
5. Beware the late-night stop
Sometimes, after finally dozing off, the bright lights of some middle-of-nowhere bus station will wake you from a slumber. Before you step out to stretch your legs, remember to grab your valuables – and take a quick look back at your bus, honing in on something that makes it look unique. You really don’t want to get aboard the wrong bus in the middle of the night, just because you’re a little bleary eyed.
6. Pack earplugs
You might be tired but the bus driver (quite rightly) wants to stay awake. Expect to hear local pop music or badly dubbed action films played at deafening volume, sometimes right the way through the night. Add in the noise from squeaking brakes, ringing phones and other passengers’ conversations, and you’ll know that your cheap set of throwaway earplugs was well worth the investment.
7. Bring something to do
One big plus with the night bus is that it combines useful A-to-B transport with somewhere cheap to sleep. The downside is that, by the time the bus departs, it’s usually far too dark outside to admire the scenery that’s whizzing by outside. If you’re having trouble sleeping, you’re going to need something else to do. Charge up your phone before departure, pack a book, and bring a few beers to crack open with your fellow travellers.
8. Use your GPS
Announcements about upcoming bus stops aren’t always very obvious – or even in a language you’ll be able to understand. So, when you think you might be nearing your final destination, open up your favourite navigation app (Google Maps works well). You’ll quickly see how close you are to the city centre, and can work out whether your next stop – be that a hotel or another transport hub – is within walking distance of the bus station. If it is, you can wander straight past the touts, tuk-tuks and taxi drivers, and start the next stage of your adventure.
9. Focus on the end
No matter how bumpy the roads are, or how numb your bum is, remember that all bus rides have to come to an end. You might be stiff, achy, and a little cranky on arrival, but you’ll have survived your journey through the night. And, hopefully, there’ll be a nice hot shower nearby with your name on it.
Have you got more tips for surviving the overnight bus? Share them in the comments below. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.